CES 2018: Hands-On With The Ultrawide Pimax 8K VR Headset

by David Jagneaux • January 11th, 2018

Other than the move towards wireless VR and an obsession with developing groundbreaking new haptic technologies, the biggest trend at CES this year for virtual reality was a focus on improved resolutions for HMD displays. From the Vive Pro’s purported “3K” combined resolution and the crisp, clear quality of Samsung’s Odyssey headset, all the way up to the enormous 8K combined resolution of the Pimax, screen doors were almost nowhere to be found at this conference.

After spending a little bit of time with the Pimax 8K at CES this week we’ve got a few thoughts about where the headset is at currently and where it needs to go next in order to succeed.

But first, a bit of background information. Everyone that’s ever spent any significant amount of time in VR knows that one of the biggest problems is that displays just aren’t sharp enough to provide the type of visual clarity needed for real immersion.

Since the pixels are so large and apparent when you press your eyes that close to the screen, it results in a “screen door effect” most of the time, or rather it makes it feel like you’re looking at the VR world through a screen door. It’s distracting and robs experiences of their beauty.

Lower resolutions lead to other issues as well, such as a lack of screen real estate and not being able to display enough details or information all at once, as well as blurriness for things like letters and numbers which makes it almost impossible to really read things in VR right now on the Rift, Vive, or PSVR.

Earlier this week the Vive Pro represented an incremental “3K” step towards a clearer and crisper VR future, but Pimax wants to leapfrog that incremental step and go straight for more than doubling current headset resolutions with their 8K offering. But, full disclosure, none of those resolution approximations are even accurate.

Sure, the Vive Pro says it has “3K” resolution, but it’s actually just 2880×1600 combined across both lenses and common sense tells you that 2,880 pixels is in fact not the same as 3,000 pixels but we round that up and say it’s a 3K headset. The same goes for most “4K” TVs on the market — they call it that, but most actually top out at more like 3840 x 2160. The same concept is at play here with the Pimax 8K because it isn’t actually an 8,000 pixels wide display. Technically, it’s only two 3820 x 2160 lenses which combine together to create a perceived 7640 x 2160 resolution which is rounded up to 8K.

I’m explaining all of this not just so that people understand that technical terms often have a bit of nuance in them, but also because the Pimax 8K is in and of itself an overly nuanced device.

For my demo they dropped me into WEVR’s theBlu, a classic VR experience at this point. The slice I tried was only a few minutes long and it was entirely stationary. Like a floating scuba diver, I waited as fish of all shapes, sizes, and colors swam around me. Before long an enormous whale appeared and then brightly colored jelly fish.

Truthfully, theBlu has never looked so stunning. Due to the massive resolution bump in the Pimax I could see individual bubbles and morsels of floating debris like never before. When I got close to a fish or environmental texture instead of seeing a screen door effect I just saw crisp, clean designs.

After raising over $4.2M on Kickstarter and aiming to start shipping units by the end of 2017, production was delayed. That’s not uncommon for Kickstarter projects though.

The new model I tried at CES this week certainly surprised me from a pure visual clarity perspective, but it’s not without its problems. For starters, the tracking still needs work. If I moved my head quickly there did appear to be some slight jittering and minor latency issues. This was barely noticeable in something like theBlu, which simply asks me to stand still and stare at fish as they swim by, but if I had been playing a game that required quick movements and fast response times, that could be a major issue.

Also, on the outer edges of each lens there was a distracting distortion effect in my peripheral vision. It was almost like a tiny sliver of the lens was being replicated at the far edges in a narrow vertical mirror, similar to the effect that happens when you get droplets of water inside your swimming goggles. It was a bizarre effect that was incredibly distracting. The field of view was absolutely massive, as you can tell from the sheer size of the thing, but I’d rather they shave off a few degrees and eliminate the distraction goggle flickering effect.

The brightness worked great, vertical field of view was excellent (much larger than any other VR headset I’ve seen), and it wasn’t as uncomfortable as I thought it’d be. It’s certainly nowhere near as comfy as its competitors because of how much larger and heavier it is, but they’ve done a good job balancing that as much as they can. I don’t know if I’d have the same opinion after playing an hour or more of an active VR game, but it was okay for a short demo.

Since my experience was so passive I couldn’t test out the base stations themselves or use the controllers really (they gave me one to hold, but I could only see a ghostly outline in front of me when I waved my hand so it was far from a robust test) and this was clearly a very controlled environment.

Ultimately the Pimax 8K seems to be coming along okay, although it doesn’t feel like it’s made any massive improvements since we heard from them last. The vast majority of VR rigs won’t be able to take full advantage of a display this enormous yet and developers would be better off spending their time catering to the minimum specifications to broaden the VR market than optimizing for ultra-wide 8K VR headsets that represent a minuscule corner of the overall industry.

While companies like Pimax do valuable work pushing display power forward, it doesn’t feel like it’s ready to be a consumer device just yet. Kickstarter backers should start receiving shipments in Q2 of 2018 according to what we heard last from the company.

Correction: The stated resolution for the Pimax has been updated to fix a math error.

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  • James Hough

    2 3820 x 2160 screens do not make 7640 x 4320, they make 7640 x 2160

    • Crunchy005

      Yep, so basically the same vertical resolution as 4K, just super ultra wide.

      • You have two eyes, not four

        VR Headsets dosn’t work like TV

        • Crunchy005

          Ya, that’s what he was pointing out…that the vertical resolution doesn’t increase just the horizontal…It’s 2 4K monitors side-by-side not 4 in a a grid(what’s needed to make 8K)…

          • 8K isn’t really 4 in a grid, 8K is a screen with 8K pixels on the wide side. Not all screen have the same aspect ratio, 21:9 is a valid aspect ratio as 4:3 or 16:9. If you put 4 21:9 screen in a grid you get a 21:9 8K screen. VR combined screen is 32:9, so you could consider this as 4 x 4K 32:9 screen. Pimax Screen is a legit 32:9 8K, because isn’t a TV or monitor, is a VR Headset and follows different rules

          • Dan DeMontmorency

            Good points. But the truth imo is as one stated. You have 2 eyes but 1 picture. So your per eye res 4k makes it more like watching a 4k 3dtv.

            However for purposes of gpu power if we are looking at the 8k-X with native 4k/eye the 7680*2160 WUHD 32:9 represents the overall gpu rendered resolution.

          • but the technical name of a display doesn’t depend on how you are watching it

            in VR lot of resolution lies in near-invisible areas, so comparing it with TV displays is waste of time, IMHO

            More useful is to compare VR headsets with each other, and I’m sure that another headset with the same screen as Pimax would always be called 8k

    • Good point, my bad! It was very late when I did that math.

      • Cdaked

        Hi, David:
        And the brightness? Is it similar to OLED screens?
        Thanks.

      • daveinpublic

        And where you say “Technically, it’s only two 3820 x 2160 lenses which combine together to create a perceived 7640 x 2160 resolution which is rounded up to 8K.”.. It’s really like a perceived ‘3820 x 2160’, as if you’re looking at one 4K TV, not an ultra wide 4K TV. It has 3 dimensions, but it’s not a perceived 7640 x 2160 resolution.

  • koenshaku

    The ultimate p0rn viewing HMD. It will be interesting to see if they reach their deadline again they’re probably waiting on next gen GPUs.

    • James Friedman

      Yup, it won’t need much horsepower to run silky smooth porn 😉 In all seriousness I do think this thing will be great for 360 video! I360 not true VR, but cleaner visuals will really add to the immersion.

  • drd7of14

    “The same goes for most “4K” TVs on the market — they call it that, but most actually top out at more like 3840 x 2160”

    Ummm…That is actually accurate as a 4X resolution over 1080p.

    (1080 * 1920) = 2073600
    (2160 * 3840)= 8294400

    8294400/2073600 = 4

    4K (2160p) doesn’t mean 4000p, it means 4 times over 1K (1080p).

    That is simply because it works in squared systems. You have to break it down first, not just go from a 1:4 ratio on one dimension.

    • Sargo Darya

      Wow, I’m now curious for your 8K explanation.

      • drd7of14

        Of course, there’s an easy answer to that…Marketing and lack of understanding of terms. To be honest, why we’re not just using the wonderful system still with 720p, 1080p, 2160p, and 4320p is all marketing. 4K sounded impressive, so how about 8K!!!!

        Some argue that the ‘K’ is predicated on being aligned to the horizontal axis(longer) by thousands. So K (like with money) stands for 1000. 2K is 1920, 4K is 3840 and 8K is 7680, right? Except…That’s ridiculous and gets smaller and smaller in “K”s since pixel counts aren’t totaled over an even square grid. 7680*2 =15360, which is not 16K, but 15(15.3-ish)K??? Nevermind that 6:9 and 6:10 ratio screw with the format as well. The K is a dumb moniker that marketing people thought would be easier for regular consumers.

        The explanation was fine for 4K, cause it actually equaled 4 times the pixel count…But by them going to “8K”, the term no longer makes much sense. It really should be “16K”, but…marketing…. -_-

        • Daz_Genetic

          You are totally wrong on your understanding of resolutions and how the “K” labels apply. In cinema, 4K is actually 4096 pixels wide. The home version is 3840 only because it’s a multiple of 1920, for easier scaling 1080p content.

      • drd7of14

        Regardless of the stupidity, the use of the term currently is correct as far as the resolution goes. Just wish they kept it at the higher standard the film industry used, instead of chopping the end off for home television purposes.

    • DeeHawk

      Wrong.

      1080p is the amount pixels vertically, while 2K is 2000 pixels horizontally.

      2K is a cinema standard 2048×1080 (~17:9)

      Therefore 1920x1080p is not 2K, but is still called like that. The cinemas does not agree on that.

      4K is also an adapted term from this and not really 4K, but 3880 pixels wide. Now it has been become common tongue, and everybody uses xK interchangeably between all kinds of aspect ratios, which does frankly not tell a full story.

      Your logic is fine, and your math adds up, but it’s simply not true.

    • daveinpublic

      4K isn’t ‘4 x 1080p’, it just means 4000. As in, 4000 pixels horizontally, even though it’s just an estimation and the numbers can be a little different.

      • Dan DeMontmorency

        Indeed since 1080p (fhd) is 2k. & is why 1440p (qhd) is often refered to as 2.5k.

        Mathwise 2160p (uhd/4k) is 2x 1080p (fhd/2k)

        1k could more be describe kinda as 720p. Lol

  • rabs

    You should have mentioned upscaling, as well.
    The screen is 7640 x 2160 but the picture sent to the HMD is expected to be 5120 x 1400 (reported on reddit for pimax v3 proto, maybe it’s lower or higher now).
    Given a 200° FOV and depending on optics, I expect an angular picture resolution lower than Odyssey / Vive Pro.
    So less detail on letters and stuff, but still probably better on SDE and obviously on FOV.

  • James Friedman

    Should of asked if they will be compatible with the new base stations for the Vive Pro. People are going to upgrading (even though it’s technically not necessary)

    • Kev

      It is.

  • Tony_Neville

    Oh god… Just stick with acronyms.